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Cyberpunk Red: One Year Later

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Of the two big releases in the Cyberpunk setting late last year, the tabletop one seems to have had the better time of it. Cyberpunk Red sparked some nostalgia in old players while introducing a new generation of players to one of the definitive settings in the genre. Surprisingly, that included me, as I spent my youth (and early parts of my career) over on the other side of the fence in Shadowrun’s Seattle. I was lucky enough to run a few games as part of my duties as host of Theatre of the Mind Players both from the original Jumpstart Kit and the full book. To celebrate the release of some supplementary materials provided by R. Talsorian Games (those mini-reviews will pop up toward the end), I decided to look back at the game now that I have a few runs under my belt.

Cyberpunk Red Core Rulebook​

Cyberpunk Red is an advancement of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077. It takes place in roughly 2045 and overwrites the materials seen in Cyberpunk 3.0 and Cybergeneration. Cyberpunk Red is not a radical revision of the original game. Think of it more like a remastered version that cleans up a few cosmetics and gameplay elements, but leaves the original system in place for better or worse. Seeing this late 80s/early 90s style of game design was jarring on my initial read, but after running it I’ve come to love much of it. The basic stat+skill+d10 roll works pretty well on its own and plays a lot more simply than other games of the time. The exploding possibility on both ends also offers a way to mix in some narrative twists as needed. The wide skills also inspired my players to think creatively. How can I use my Personal Grooming and Style here?

One of the areas that was streamlined well was the lifepath generation system The original game generated a lot of history for characters, while Cyberpunk Red’s version generated just enough. My players loved this part of character creation and didn’t need much prodding to mix each other up in their stories.

The Roles were also improved in Cyberpunk Red. Each skill works in a slightly different way, from the combat analysis of the Solo allowing shifts in attack profiles to the Nomad’s ability to borrow family vehicles for specific runs. I’m usually a fan of unified mechanics but the different Role skills really help give each archetype a distinct flavor.

Cyberpunk Netrunner Deck​

One of the big challenges of the cyberpunk genre is the hacker problem. Games are set up to emulate the fiction, which features hackers dashing through a cool VR dungeon to get the important information. In play, however, that often meant the hacker player monopolizing the GM’s time while everyone else watched.

Cyberpunk Red streamlined this process by giving Netrunners multiple actions based on their Netrunning skill and simplifying data fortress construction to a single path of risk and reward. My initial read on this was that they went too far in the easy direction but in play it felt like just enough spotlight was given to the netrunner during a job. It feels like the netrunner does all the exploration while the game shifts back into the meat world and now we’re just at the challenge points of the run. It’s also easier to add complexity back into a table’s taste than remove it.

As Netrunners are the closest thing to wizards in this setting, the Cyberpunk Red Netrunner Deck is more or less a spell deck for the Netrunner player featuring all the programs featured in the core book. It also includes the ICE programs they might face as well as a small mini deck of nodes that can be used to generate a hack on the fly. Pick this up if netrunning is a focus of your Cyberpunk Red games.

Cyberpunk Red Data Screen​

We didn’t get into much combat during our game, but the moments where we did felt fast and brutal. Things really turn on the critical hit mechanics which ends fights quickly. Beware; if players can’t hit matching sixes, it can be a while to put down an opponent.

The key question for a GM screen for me is always “Does this have useful charts that I will use during play?” The Cyberpunk Red Data Screen fits all the things I wanted for combat in one area, though I think the Jumpstart Kit still has good reference charts for other things like Netrunning. If you only buy one GM aid, get this one because it’s freshly filled with errata, but if you can afford both, this combined with the Jumpstart Kit makes a deluxe suite of GM data.

Cyberpunk Red Data Pack​

This product recalls another relic of 90s game releases: the book of materials that barely missed the cut for the corebook paired with a less sexy accessory. In this case, the Data Pack comes with a stack of double sided character sheets for those folks who don’t want to use their precious printer juice.

There are also battle maps included. Given the dearth of modern battle grids, that alone makes Cyberpunk Red Data Pack a worthy purchase, even if the maps are printed on glossy pages rather than wet/dry erase material. They also look like they could be useful for the upcoming mini combat game.

The real value in this release comes from the booklet which includes a few one-page screamsheet adventures as well as a series of 20 entry tables of everything ranging from contacts to pocket contents. Each of these works as a lovely story hook or as a bit of color to fill out Night City.

Upon my first reading of Cyberpunk Red my thoughts were mixed but after playing it I find that the rules are a solid base refined just enough to appeal to more modern tastes. It’s a great entry point into the Cyberpunk universe, regardless of one’s opinion of its videogame big brother.

This post contains affiliate links to the products mentioned within. If you found the review useful, please consider buying the products via the link to help support the reviewer.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

MGibster

Legend
Some abilities are pretty general and useful for the special ops team/murder hobo equivalents in Cyberpunk, but not every campaign has to be like that. The rocker boy archetype could be the core of a particular type of campaign.
I'm thinking of that Simpson's parody of Knight Rider with the Kitt character as a boat instead of a car. Bart say something like, "There's always a inlet, an estuary, or something allowing the boat to go after criminals inland." And then during the episode some bad guys head inland and the David Hasselhoff equivalent says, "Look, there's an estuary!"

I kind of think of the Rockerboy ability like that. Each session, contriving some reason for them to start a riot or something. It'd get tedious I think.
 

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You're right. Now that I read the Charismatic Leadership ability you're right. And that's probably another reason I never saw anyone actually play a Rocker Boy. Their main ability is only useful in a very narrow set of circumstances.

That was an issue with a couple of them. As I recall, Corp was more broad, but still excluded by a lot of situations. On the other hand, there were going to be a very limited number of games the Solo ability of the Netrunner (unless the GM just decided the mini-game was not something he was going to mess with any more) weren't going to be relevant.
 

Some abilities are pretty general and useful for the special ops team/murder hobo equivalents in Cyberpunk, but not every campaign has to be like that. The rocker boy archetype could be the core of a particular type of campaign.

That's the problem, though; in campaigns where his ability is consistently relevant, its going to constantly orbit around him. Most of what he's doing no one else is going to help with. Its the Netrunner problem, except potentially worse.
 

MGibster

Legend
That was an issue with a couple of them. As I recall, Corp was more broad, but still excluded by a lot of situations. On the other hand, there were going to be a very limited number of games the Solo ability of the Netrunner (unless the GM just decided the mini-game was not something he was going to mess with any more) weren't going to be relevant.
Cyberpunk 2020 had a lot of niggling problems with many of the skills. The Corporate's Resource ability was very, very broad giving a player access to vehicles, a hit team, cash, and other specialist as needed. The biggest limit I think is that you can't use Resource to fix an immediate situation (most of the time). i.e. If you're ambushed by a poser gang you can't just make a Resource roll to bring in a corporate hit squad because by the time they show up you're probably already oozing life.

That's the problem, though; in campaigns where his ability is consistently relevant, its going to constantly orbit around him. Most of what he's doing no one else is going to help with. Its the Netrunner problem, except potentially worse.
Even aside from revolving everything around that one ability being a problem for every other player, it'd just get old. We all know celebrities get special treatment. They get access to things or they get freebies just because people like them. So why not allow their ability to be used in their day-to-day lives? The security guard is a huge fan of Trinity's Child and let's her into the scrapyard just so long as she promises to keep a low profile and give him an autograph. Or maybe one of Trinity's fans knows a guy who knows a guy who specializes in data analytics who can sift through those Militech files that fell in her lap
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm honestly still on the fence trying to figure out how I can fit a Rockerboy into my (as of yet unrealized) campaign. It revolves around a heist and then dealing with the ramifications of the heist. During session zero I'll just need to talk to everyone and work out the best way I can fit every class into the campaign. I was against Corporate and Law Dog types, but if the players are willing to play ball I'll be flexible as well.
 

MGibster

Legend
So I just bought the Cyberpunk Humble Bundle and it came with Rockerboy, a sourcebook on Rockerboys and Media. In the introduction it says:

Rockerboy said:
Since its conception, Cyberpunk has generated a lot of questions in several areas. One of these has been, "How do I incorporate my Rockerboy into a campaign without focusing all the events on him/her?"

So I'm going to read this and see if it offers us any suggestions.
 

MGibster

Legend
So after reading a bit of Rockerboy, they have an "interview" with Kerry Eurodyne where he recalls an incident where the lead singer of an Afro-Punk band makes some offhanded comments at a restaurant where journalist overheard it and suddenly it was plastered all over the news and his followers were trying to interview them. I think allowing the Rockerboy to use their ability outside of an actual performance is fair. Reading that fake article made me think of a certain political leader whose followers latch on to throw away statements he makes adopting them as gospel and incorporating them into their lives despite what experts might say.
 

MGibster

Legend
And, holy cow. An RPG book published in 1989 has an section titled "Hitler was a Rockerboy" and right after that another "interview" with a lesbian satirist named Maz Despair on the run from Texas after being framed for the murder of a politician. In 1989, folks! And holy cow, it's eerily accurate about the fate of gay clubs due to mainstream acceptance:

Maz Despair 1989 said:
With this sudden openness, I would have expected to see a multitude of gay oriented places opening up, but the infusion was so widespread, they just assimilated into society and people just did their business as usual.

Sorry, I didn't mean to turn this into a "Let's Read" thread.
 

You're right. Now that I read the Charismatic Leadership ability you're right. And that's probably another reason I never saw anyone actually play a Rocker Boy. Their main ability is only useful in a very narrow set of circumstances.
No, it's WIDELY useful... but only at a distance from the other players. It takes the character away from the op, in favor of enabling success.
I was good sitting out during the op. They wanted me to play firepower, not before-and-after distraction.
 

MGibster

Legend
No, it's WIDELY useful... but only at a distance from the other players. It takes the character away from the op, in favor of enabling success.
I think part of the problem is simply with the description of the skill in 2020. In the book, the only example we really get is of a Rockerboy using the ability to incite the crowd to riot and he's got to do that while performing. But back when 2020 was published, 1990 or 1991, I hadn't thought of all the other things a Rockerboy could do. He could encourage his fans to donate some euros to help starving Nomad families (Live Aid) or help out independent agra families (Farm Aid), encourage his fans to dox someone, or, hell, maybe the Rockerboy could make a little extra scratch by acting like an influencer and hawking a particular brand of water.

I do think the Red's Charismatic Impact is more flexible in that it's specifically designed to work on one person or more people while the 2020 version only works on 10 or more people. In addition, the Red version allows the Rockerboy to create more fans by successful using the skill.
 

Saracenus

Always In School Gamer
I can't recall ever playing a Cyberpunk 2020 campaign with someone playing a Rockerboy. Which is somewhat odd because Johnny Silverhand was one of what we'd call iconic characters from the book along the likes of Rogue, Armitage, and Blackhand. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever saw someone play a Media either. I don't know if it was because of a lack of interest or people just didn't know how to fit them into the game. Anyone here have trouble with any of the roles? If I ever get my next campaign up and running, I'm probably going to ask players to avoid making Lawmen and Corporates though I might be able to make the latter work.

Anyone remember Interface magazine? They had a license to published Cyberpunk 2020 information and each issue had things like cybernetics, police profiles of gangs/individuals, new drugs, corporations, etc., etc. you could introduce to your game. They even had movie and book reviews including Street Lethal and Highlander 2. There were only six issues published between 1991 and 1992, but, wow, they left quite an impression on me. I had to include Spider Lady, a ripper doc feature in issue two in 1991, as an NPC in my upcoming campaign.


View attachment 147574
I have 5 all 6 issues still. Interface was an interesting fanzine.

4E4D3974-9644-49A7-87A5-BFFAC8E684B3.jpeg


Do you remember the 3rd party Vampire CP2020 supplement? Found it, Night's Edge.

As for a modern game system to run CP20XX in, if you want a more story driven game the I can suggest The Sprawl powered by the Apocalypse Engine.

Glide through the most secure corporate computer networks. Crack the ICE that stands between you and that big score.

Drop your cyberlinked autoshotgun to the floor empty. Flick chrome blades from your fingers. Dive into the midst of that corporate response team to secure your team’s exit.

Turn up your synth-leather jacket against the rain. Watch the back-alley entrance of the club for your target. Tail the armoured limo through the neon-bathed streets.

Cut power to the alarms. Drop over the wall into the compound. Slip past the auto-sentries. Locate and secure the prototype. Escape under the eyes of the rotor-drones.

Whatever your story, you are the extended assets of vast multinational corporations, operating in the criminal underground, and performing the tasks that those multinationals can’t do... or can’t be seen to do. You are deniable, professional and disposable.

The Sprawl is a game of mission-based action in a gritty neon-and-chrome Cyberpunk future for an MC and 2-4 players.

  • Create your own Sprawl at the nexus of bleeding-edge technology and fragile humanity
  • Play hardbitten professionals caught between ruthless corporate interests
  • Win sometimes, lose sometimes and be double-crossed a lot
There are a thousand stories in The Sprawl. What's yours?Z+
 
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Blue Orange

Adventurer
It's been almost 30 years, I don't know if I just barely remember it or I'm getting it mixed up with the Interface issue about cults or GURPS Cyberpunk where they mention mixing things up with Cthulhu.

There was an actual GURPS Cthulhupunk supplement. I remember reading it in the 90s.
 


One of the great problems with Cyberpunk as a game is the varied expectations of the setting by the players...
Merc action like Hard Wired? Decking l;ike Neuromancer? Posthumanism like Armor? New eemergent subpopulations like in Gundam? Superdrugs like a dozen short stories? Genentic creations like Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Surgical alters and genetic mods, so you wind up with a protagonist looking like Tony the Tiger and a built in brainmod? Or the whole kit and cabooddle as an incoherent mess?

Interface was no help on that score... it only supported a small subset of the genre spread of the CP2013 or CP2020 rules.
 

MGibster

Legend
One of the great problems with Cyberpunk as a game is the varied expectations of the setting by the players...
Merc action like Hard Wired? Decking l;ike Neuromancer? Posthumanism like Armor? New eemergent subpopulations like in Gundam? Superdrugs like a dozen short stories? Genentic creations like Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Surgical alters and genetic mods, so you wind up with a protagonist looking like Tony the Tiger and a built in brainmod? Or the whole kit and cabooddle as an incoherent mess?
I didn't read anything by William Gibson until I was in my early 30s and long after I had last played any Cyberpunk. I was a little surprised by how different my Cyberpunk experience was compared to Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. I suppose it's similar to how someone who had never read Lord of the Rings until after they played AD&D for a few years. Though I did read Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams and Street Lethal by Steven Barnes. I still remember my confusion as to who was supposed to be on the cover illustration of Street Lethal. The protagonist is an African American but there was a musclebound white dude on the cover of the copy I had.

So I didn't suffer from those expectations at the time because I really didn't have a lot of experience with cyberpunk as a genre. But, yeah, I get it where you're coming from now.

Interface was no help on that score... it only supported a small subset of the genre spread of the CP2013 or CP2020 rules.
Looking back, I think of 2013 and 2020 and their own thing in the same way that D&D is its own thing. Inspired by multiple sources but not really emulating most of the literature that inspired it.
 

Saracenus

Always In School Gamer
It's been almost 30 years, I don't know if I just barely remember it or I'm getting it mixed up with the Interface issue about cults or GURPS Cyberpunk where they mention mixing things up with Cthulhu.
Interface Issue 2, Vol. 2 was all about a Cthulhu/Cyberpunk 2020 mash up they called The Darktime or CyberCthulhu.
 

One of the great problems with Cyberpunk as a game is the varied expectations of the setting by the players...
Merc action like Hard Wired? Decking l;ike Neuromancer? Posthumanism like Armor? New eemergent subpopulations like in Gundam? Superdrugs like a dozen short stories? Genentic creations like Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Surgical alters and genetic mods, so you wind up with a protagonist looking like Tony the Tiger and a built in brainmod? Or the whole kit and cabooddle as an incoherent mess?

Interface was no help on that score... it only supported a small subset of the genre spread of the CP2013 or CP2020 rules.

CP shares a great weakness with 5e: it is all about the gear. Magic items or cyber implants, the focus is on hardware, whereas the king of the written genre, Gibson, focused upon the people. That has always been my stumbling block: I read LotR before D&D, and Gibson before CP.
 

MGibster

Legend
I wish there were mechanics in Cyberpunk Red for a character's reputation. "Uh, actually MGibster, Reputation can be gained or loss through the characters' actions. And, you're right, but what I would have liked to see was some sort of social currency introduced. As it stands, there's a lot of pressure to make end's meet so they can keep on paying for that shipping container, those fancy threads, and that new Kawasaki Blitzkrieg motorcycle they've had their eye on. Which is fine. There's a reason these people became cyberpunks in the first place.

What I'd like is some mechanical support encouraging PCs to be a little less mercenary at times. One of the best things about Cyberpunk 2077 are the relationships V has with other people such as Jackie Wells, Viktor Vektor, Judy Alvarez, and others. He wasn't always motivated by money. I know as the GM I can just reward players with new contacts, discounts, and assistance from NPCs, I just would have liked some mechanics for it.
 

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